Officials in Tbilisi are cautious about unveiling the details of ongoing negotiations, involving the Georgian, Russian, Abkhaz and Armenian sides, regarding the creation of a consortium which will deal with a multi-million project to rehabilitate the Abkhaz section of the Russo-Georgian railway.
Chief of the state-run Georgian Railway company Irakli Ezugbaia informed lawmakers about the talks at a session of the Commission for Territorial Integrity. But no details of these hearings are known as the session was held behind closed doors.
Abkhaz sources reported in early May that the Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian, and Armenian sides signed a protocol during talks in Moscow on May 4 establishing a consortium – the Black Sea Railways - which will rehabilitate the Abkhaz railway. According to these reports, the consortium will be an open joint stock company where the Abkhaz side will be represented as "a full-fledged party." But Georgian officials have denied these reports.
“There are not four parties. There are only two parties – Georgian and Russian. All the rest [the Abkhaz and Armenian sides] are only invited to participate in the working meetings,” Irakli Ezugbaia told Civil Georgia on May 30 after the parliamentary commission hearing.
“No decision has been made so far regarding the parties [in the consortium], because we are still working on the mechanisms of setting up this consortium. The final political decision will be presented only after this [work] is over,” Ezugbaia said.
He noted that the protocol signed in Moscow on May 4 is a document which reflects the position of the sides regarding the issue.
Ezugbaia also said that no agreement has been reached thus far on how shares among the participating sides will be distributed in the consortium.
“There are different positions among the negotiating sides about this issue,” Ezugbaia added.
He also said that the consortium will most likely be registered in “one of the European states.”
Ezugbaia stressed that Georgia will push for the participation of those Georgian experts in railway rehabilitation who are internally displaced persons from Abkhazia.
The parliamentarians participating in the commission hearings noted after the session that “no sufficient answers” were provided by the chief of the Georgian Railway.
Ezugbaia said he is in charge of “the technical aspects” of the rehabilitation of the Abkhaz railway, which will cost roughly USD 200-300 million; hence he is not in a position to comment on the “political aspects of the issues.”
MP Shota Malashkhia, who chairs the Commission for Territorial Integrity, said after the hearings that the issue related with the railway consortium is too complicated and “is like a big spider web of legal questions.”
“We can not see mechanisms of creating this consortium; we can not see how control over this consortium or investments will be carried out… All the lawmakers [attending the session] have the impression that the issue is not fully worked out,” MP Malashkhia told reporters.
If implemented, the project will revive the Trans-Caucasus Railway, which stretched more than 2,300 kilometers during Soviet times, connecting Armenia and Georgian Black Sea ports with central Russia; the railway, which has been on hold since the conflict in the breakaway region in the early 90s, operated passenger services and handled more than 15 million tons of transit cargo per year.
According to a public opinion survey commissioned by the International Republican Institute this April 75% of 1500 Georgian citizens surveyed thought that the restoration of the Abkhaz railway will “better suit Georgian national interests.”